Edvard Munch @ SFMOMA

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Y’all, over our brief 3 day sojourn to San Francisco we got to see the opening of an Edvard Munch show.

It left me speechless for a few reasons.

First, America rarely gets to see Munch’s work in person. Most are in Oslo in the Munch Museum, and most others are scattered around Europe. I went to New York  in 2013 and saw one version of The Scream there but other than that I have not seen many Munch paintings.

The exhibit was bare except for his canvasses. You could tell many had never been framed as the frames were new and showed the edges of the canvas. The edges were beautiful, just as beautiful as the paint filled middles, because you could see the nails and the ends of the paint and the work felt more human.

Logan said that Munch felt like Renoir on ether, and Adrienne and I both looked at how he painted women- as muses, sexual objects, creatures who reviled Munch, as temptresses and devils. It was agreed that Munch was, in many ways in his later years, a dirty old man.

But a damn talented one. His use of color and his skill with layers and washes were incredible. I felt full as I looked at his depictions of himself, of death, of isolation and lost love. Munch clearly had a powerful imagination that often threatened to swallow him entirely, as he depicted himself in Hell and being watched by eerie masks. We did loops, seeing new things at each turn in front of different canvasses. We sat in front of some and got closer to others. I felt my mind turning to a dirty, poor, unsophisticated Oslo where Munch grew up and wondering about who this man was.

It was a fantastic opportunity for us Americans to see the work of somebody who so clearly had a different mindset, set of motivations, morals, and ideas. It was, though this is difficult to accurately explain, very obvious that these works were by a brooding Norwegian.

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The Minneapolis Institute of Art

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Spending time in art museums always refills my soul in ways I struggle to verbalize. Seeing paint on canvas, the aging of marble, the intricate woodwork of gilded frames; it all feels somehow, though often centuries old, like a breath of fresh air.

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

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I love how Manet consistently used colors to embody luxury and how he used light to enhance everything. The dark backgrounds with bland colors set his subjects in contrast, making them more illuminated and glowing. I love how delicately he does hands- they don’t look stiff or too formal at all. The tiny peeled lemon he leaves in the bottom right corner of the painting make it both a portrait and a still life. I love how quick and easy his brushstrokes seem. Manet was a passionate creature, and his paintings and pastel works are infused with emotion. There is no passivity in his creations, no pauses, but they are not rushed works. Purposeful, clever, and exquisite, Manet’s portraits are some of my favorites to observe.

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Working Title/Artist: Young Lady in 1866 Department: European Paintings Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1866 photographed by mma in 1993, transparency 2a (8×10) scanned by film & media 9/19/04 (phc)

You can tell a woman did this: Artemisia Gentileschi

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Details from Judith Beheading Holofernes, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

I love Judith and Holofernes paintings quite a bit. Lots of artists have done their interpretations of the scene- and most of them have been men.

The way that men typically paint Judith is either as she’s about to cut off Holoferne’s head or after, or if she’s shown actually beheading him she’s very flimsy about it. Her grip on the sword seems less than realistic, and she usually looks calm and beautiful (you know, for that pesky thing called the male gaze).

Here, we have Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter, giving us her version. While I don’t think it’s been substantiated, this is seen as something of a revenge painting. Artemisia was supposed to have been raped at some point as a young woman and it could be said that this painting is her version of getting back. It certainly is a bloody scene, and much darker than many paintings.

I love how intensely Judith is in the process of beheading him (realistically decapitation is no piece of cake- you’ve got muscles, sinew, ligaments, a spine, etc. to get through) because it feels real. You can see her hand gripping the hilt of the sword while one hand is tangled in Holofernes hair so as to get a better grip. Her assistant holds him down, and his massive form is shown writhing, desperately trying to avoid the inevitable. His blood streams down the edge of the mattress and sprays un-elegantly out of the side of his neck (those arteries!). This feels legitimate. It wasn’t painted for some man to stare at as some gorgeous, poised Judith delicately saws through Holoferne’s body passively- it was created by a woman who imagines if she were actaully given the task to get Holofernes drunk and then dispatch of him. If you were a female assassin, what would you do? This. 

This painting is magnificent. I wish I had known about Artemisia when I was at the Uffizi in 2009- I was much more obsessed with seeing Botticelli and Michelangelo at the time. Someday I will go and honor this wondrous woman’s creation in person properly. Until then, she has all my respect.

 

Massacre of the Innocents

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Details of Pieter Bruegel’s Massacre of the Innocents. 

When I was making these I realized all the fantastic things I miss when I just see it. The way the horse’s tail is tied in a bow, the way that Bruegel frames the bodies of animals and men alike. The lack of outright blood and gore, but still omnipresent violence and the threat of it everywhere, hemmed in with the most lovely, peaceful looking rooftops and skyline. The sky alone could be looked at for quite some time, in my opinion. The delicate hues of pink, the richness of his browns, the touches of blue, the harshness of the green against the winter village setting, even the cold glint of armor- a wonderful whirlwind.

 

Thesis Pieces

My current thesis topic is the comparison between various Spanish-Colonial Virgins from Cuzco and Mexico City.

I’m absolutely entranced by both of these pieces. The three pictures at the top are of the Virgin of Guadalupe enconchado piece (enconchado is mother-of-pearl applied directly to the canvas) by Michel Gonzalez from 1698. This style came from Japan, as the Spanish had a trading route with Japan and much of the art and furniture, although meant for Spain, ended up in Mexico!

The other three pictures are from the Virgin of Belan by a Cuzco School artist from around 1710. Obviously she is a very different depiction of the Virgin Mary- hers incorporates Incan and native symbols and styles learned and developed in Peru.

Both of these pieces are in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and I hope to see the enconchado piece! (The Virgin of Belan is not on view right now, gah!)

 

Cristo Velato by Giuseppe Sanmartino

0563B_ 014 il_cristo_velato_giuseppe_sanmartino_I am an atheist, but I’ll be damned if religious imagery doesn’t get me every time. You can’t not sigh in front of Giotto or be mesmerized by Grunewald (which I will do a post on soon, he’s so fantastical) or just sort of wonder how Michelangelo did what he did (research suggests he had autism or Asbergers, which may have affected the way that he created how he did).

I didin’t know that Italian sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino existed until recently.  I saw Cristo Velato (Veiled Christ) and immediately wanted to know more.

There fact that this guy was able to make this out of MARBLE?! Blows my mind up to where space and earth combine. I can’t handle thinking about how he created such a masterpiece. The crown of thorns at Christ’s feet, the nails used to keep Him on the Cross- there is an emotional connection here that even those of us who don’t believe in anything “after” that means something.

This is High Baroque marble sculpture, so no doubt Sanmartino was influenced by people like Bernini, but he holds his own in making us really believe that the marble is cloth.

 

 

Objects in the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

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I miss museums and spaces full of objects. I’ve felt overwhelmed by my own objects recently. I like a space like a museum or a gallery where I can spend as much time among these gorgeous things as I would like, but at the end of the day I can part without feeling responsible for their fate. I am so scatter-brained that I lose my own things all the time and so museums take away that stress of losing or forgetting things (I’m on my 3rd pair of gloves this winter already).

Here are some lovely things I found myself entranced by. There were many more objects that I’m not showing but their lovely American portrait section unfortunately is a dark space that my camera couldn’t handle (I love portraiture, hands and mouths especially).

My love for Edvard Munch intensifies.

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The Dance of Life (showing Munch accosted by Lust while Love waits and decays on either side)edvard_munch_scream

The Scream- considered a possible drawing of a human soul, inspired by a bloody sunset on a bridge, also a culmination of anxiety and fear.edvard_munch_seperation

Seperation- a lithograph where the memory of one of his lovers pervades as hair over his shoulder on the shore of his summering place in Norway, probably.edvard_munch_the_kiss

The Kiss- his response to a kiss with an early lover, all-encompassing, overwhelming, but gloriously so. munch_ashes

Ashes- Edvard often felt “used” by women, drained by them (this inspires his “Vampyr” series, where life force is taken by various lovers, particularly Tulla, an obsessive wealthy girl who stalked him all over Europe). munch_self_portrait_1895

Self Portrait with Skeleton Arm- Edvard would put fetuses, skeletons, and corpses in the borders of some of his prints, which I love.

Growing up in Kristiania, which is now Oslo, to a fiercely religious father and a sickly mother, Edvard Munch watched his family succumb to sickness, death, and insanity. His mother slowly wasted away, his best friend and dear sister Sophie died (he kept the chair she expired in for the rest of her life), and his sister Laura descended into madness and schizophrenia. His Aunt Karen, his father, and his youngest brother and sister lived on but forever in debt, living in more and more decrepit apartments.

Edvard was a master drawer, and very creative, but plagued with depression and bouts of extreme sickness. Because of his father’s religious beliefs, he from an early age recalls thinking about how he would surely perish and end up in Hell. He also never managed to escape the idea of love/intimacy with being sinful- making every relationship with women he ever had doomed.

He would starve for days to afford paint, and in the papers he was known as Norway’s most infamous artist, hated and feared. He “disgraced” his family and eventually moved between Oslo, Berlin, and Paris, borrowing money and drinking all day, creating gorgeous paintings laced with his common experiences with death, sickness, poverty, and emotional twists and turns that we could only barely portray.

Munch was a genius in how he showed his ideas- they are universally understood. Where other artists followed symbols and color ideas, Munch just painted how he felt. And it’s so easy to feel exactly that- grief, exhaustion, terror, anxiety.

The intense psychology and the influence he exerted later on the Die Brucke movement in German Expressionism has spawned some of my favorite art- free of “rules” and expectations, but uninhibited, active, and gorgeous, in oft unsettling ways.

He is the ultimate master of manipulation. I feel loss of innocence, terrible guilt and immense sadness when I look at his things.

Only a few short months until I will be in New York to stand in front of The Scream, where I am totally sure I will weep a bit- Munch’s things are so saturated, I don’t believe I could help myself (I’ve only cried in front of Guernica, Picasso’s huge canvas, and Seurat’s Bathers before. The list will grow).

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Or, that crazy Flemish guy)

Dull Gret

Dutch Proverbs

The Fall of the Rebel Angels

Massacre of the Innocents

Tower of Babel

I love it when an artist has clearly staked out a niche, and then makes it entirely their own. The works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder are fantastic in this way- he has a formula, and he has made it near perfection, but flexible enough that he can warp the typical scene- a landscape with many figures and lots of action and perspective- into whatever surreal experience he wants us to feel.

He was a “Flemish Renaissance” artist. What that means is that he lived somewhere in the Southern  Netherlands or Northern Belgium and spoke a dialect of Dutch particular to the area. Flanders was a big trading city and usually occupied by the Spanish or other invaders. This meant, however, that it was possible for many artists and forms of art to trickle in because of the outside influences as well as a result of their trading status.

Regardless, Bruegel is a badass. I love his scenes- they’re like Hieronymous Bosch with their creepy vibes trickling into our blood and sort of making us wonder what was going on in his mind. I love his attention to detail, and while it can be exhausting going through his paintings it’s because everything is vibrant and pulsating with energy. Even the peasants painted far off ice-skating on a winter day make you want to be there.

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

All the gilded things

 

I’m not religious, but there is something about the various jeweled illuminated manuscripts that, although they are not secular, are simply gorgeous. The craftsmanship to create one of these is staggering, and the beauty that they exude cannot be matched.

Oh yeah, and they’re gaudy. They’re very gaudy.

I just got done completing my GRE- oh, what a joy it was! I am being sarcastic to the extreme, but it does feel satisfying to see the light at the end of the undergraduate tunnel at last. It’s still far away but closer than it has ever been.

Books as follows:

1. Lindau Gospels, c. 860 CE

2. Codex Aureus of St. Emmarum, c. 870 CE, possibly from same workshop as Lindau Gospel

3. Book of Gospels, Northern France, c. 860 CE

The impossible things are often the most beautiful

Vladimir Tatlin’s Momunet to the Third International might be one of my favorite non-existent pieces of art.

It is considered technically impossible to assemble in the state Tatlin sketched it in. It was meant to be taller than the Eiffel Tower. It was meant to show the aspirations of the USSR, and define the age of modernity, among other things.

Is it a sad thing that Tatlin’s dream structure cannot actually be built? Or is it beautiful that we can imagine it and sort of bask in the wonders of the human mind, in all the far fetched and delusional thoughts, plans, and wants?

Halloween with Hieronymous

What sort of night full of spooks, thrills, screams, (or for some of us, exams and sleep) would be complete without some supremely creepy details from The Garden of Earthly Delights? Hieronymous Bosch’s triptych has its right and final panel descending into the depths of Hell, a rather dark and sulfuric place that is full of torture, inevitable death, and the surreal.

Also, just on a side note, I’m drinking one of those giant obnoxious cans of tea or lemonade or whatever. I only bought it because I am in a cafe with wicked fast internet and unfortunately this is the only thing that remotely tempted me. And now i have this ridiculously large tin of tea/lemonade/whatever and I feel rather silly. Who needs 24 oz. of this stuff all at once?!

 

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss

There’s something so terrifying and gorgeous about Klimt’s work.

All of it has these seeping tones of sensuality, but The Kiss is still an ultimate favorite. People all over the world know this painting, and it is one of the most popular images from art history anywhere.

What I love about it is the uncertainty of what’s going on. Is he kissing her, about to push her off the precipice her feet so delicately grip? Is he saving her, comforting her, or forcing her into this embrace? What happens to the characters Klimt paints is really up to the viewer. Right now, as it goes in my life, the precipice is the future. It’s the next step, and these gorgeously painted creatures know no more about it than I do.

 

The Kiss

Edvard Munch doesn’t really circumvent anything. He goes right for what he’s feeling- betrayal, heartbreak, being misunderstood, isolation, narcissism. His art speaks volumes and it’s full of mysticism and outright feelingThe Kiss has been one of my favorite works of his for a very long time- it’s right up there with his The Dance of Life.

There’s something so brooding about Munch’s work that I relate to. The simplicity of what he’s feeling is so obvious, but there are also many layers one can look for in this blatent display of emotions. What was the catalyst? What are the consequences? What are the implications of looking at this work this way?

The Kiss can be interpreted in many different ways to me. It shows how a kiss can momentarily combine two anatomies into one, or it can show, if you want to be dark, how emotions and expressions of such can feel imprisoning and claustrophobic- this kiss has implications beyond just the shared embrace. The Kiss can also be looked at in the two ways Munch showed it- a moment of being bare to the person you are kissing, or a moment of modesty and false promises. A clothed person could be hiding more.

In this way, Munch’s obvious emotions really just create more questions than answers. I love his works more than words could ever try and express.